Sharon Palmer, R.D.

Healthy Eating - Looking for the Mark of the Mediterranean Diet

Seafood, olive oil and wine -- some of the cornerstones of the Mediterranean diet

Environmental Nutrition

You don't have to live on a Greek island to appreciate the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. After all, well-publicized research links eating the Mediterranean way with a number of positive effects, including lengthened life, anti-cancer and anti-depression properties, weight management, protection against Alzheimer's disease, improved symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and decreased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. And don't forget that Mediterranean cuisine is more than just healthy -- it's delicious.

With so many good reasons to dive into Mediterranean food, what's keeping you from taking the plunge? For many people, the question is simple: "How do I get started?" Contrary to what you might think, the Mediterranean diet is not an exotic way of eating foods, or a "diet" in the sense of something you might go "on" or "off." Instead, consider the Mediterranean diet as a lifestyle followed by residents of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea (Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Algeria, Greece, Albania, Israel, Spain, Italy, France, Croatia, Lebanon, Libya and Malta).

The main ingredients of the Mediterranean diet include:

-- Abundant amounts of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

-- Moderate portions of cheese and yogurt.

-- Healthy fats, such as olive oil, nuts, avocados and canola oil.

-- Wine in moderation, usually with meals, if you drink.

-- Fish and seafood.

-- Small amounts of red meat, only a few times per month.

-- Daily physical activity.

Many of the principles of the Mediterranean diet can be applied to your own style of eating. Try switching your cooking oil to olive oil; eat more of your favorite whole plant foods like grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes; cook fish more often; and exercise every day -- and you're just about there.

"Marking" Mediterranean. Another fun and tasty way to ease your way into Mediterranean eating is to look for traditional Mediterranean foods that bear the Med Mark (a program of the Mediterranean Foods Alliance), a symbol placed on food and beverages that represent the core foods and drinks of the Mediterranean diet.

The Med Mark, currently on more than 160 food and beverage products ranging from tomato sauce to extra virgin olive oil, means that the product meets nutritional criteria based on research on the Mediterranean diet and the U.S. FDA's definition of "healthy." To earn this label, a product must contain:

-- No added trans fats in any amount.

-- No more than 8 percent of total calories from saturated fat.

-- No more than 480 milligrams of sodium for side items and snacks or 600 milligrams for entrees.

-- No more than 4 grams of added sugar.

So now that you know how easy it is to "Med-up" your favorite dishes or find traditional Mediterranean foods in supermarkets, it's time to get started and enjoy the beautiful life ala Mediterranean.

Turn This in to ... That

White toast with butter and jam


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Ice cream sundae


Nonfat plain yogurt with fresh fruit and pecans


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Health - Looking for the Mark of the Mediterranean Diet